A recent decision of the High Court in England and Wales has addressed the interplay between spent convictions and the right to be forgotten in a data protection context.

1. Outline

In NT1 & NT2 v Google LLC [2018] EWHC 799 (QB), two businessmen who had each been convicted of offences many years ago sought the removal of Google’s search results which returned third party articles about their respective convictions. These results included three links in respect of NT1 and 11 source publications in respect of NT2. In circumstances where Google refused the applications by both parties, the claimants initiated proceedings in the High Court.

2. Spent Convictions

The convictions concerned related to conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s in the case of NT1 and conspiracy to intercept communications in respect of NT2, for which they were imprisoned for four years and six months, respectively. It was claimed inter alia that the articles complained of were inaccurate, old, irrelevant and of no public interest.

3. Decision

The appeal in respect of NT2 was allowed, however, the appeal in respect of NT1 was not. In explaining the decision and, in particular, the distinction as between the claimants, the judge stated that NT1 had continued to mislead the public and had failed to show remorse. By contrast, in respect of NT2, it was noted that “the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability”.

4. Comment

Commenting on the significance of the decision, Mr Justice Warby indicated that the decision is quite likely to give rise to further cases of this nature.

The decision provides helpful insight in respect of convictions which have become spent and the tension with digital legacies.

The full text of the judgment can be accessed here.